Ohio University professors Berkeley Franz, an assistant professor of community-based health, and Daniel Skinner, an associate professor of health policy at the OU Dublin Campus, published their book Not Far From Me: Stories of Opioids and Ohio this past summer.
Not Far From Me is a collection of 50 accounts — in the styles of interviews, poems and photographs — from real-life, every-day people who have been affected by opioids at some point in their lives. All content is from Ohio-based authors, and the book illustrates how a considerable amount of people felt the impact of drug abuse.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), drug overdoses continue to increase nationwide and 130 people die from opioid overdoses on average every day. But this epidemic shouldn’t be seen by the numbers — the people who are dying are parents, children and community members, which is what Franz and Skinner wish to demonstrate.
Skinner said the idea for the book had been developing for a while.
“Here in Columbus, I kept getting invited to these round tables that legislators would throw,” Skinner said. “But they were mostly photo ops; they weren’t, in my view, people engaging the issue. So I became increasingly interested in telling some of the stories that were getting missed in the official town of the so-called ‘opioid crisis’ in Ohio.”
Though the issue is statewide, the Appalachian region of the state has been hit hard.
Appalachia in the context of the opioid crisis has been a topic of major discussion. Plenty of media content about the subject has been circulating, including critically-acclaimed books Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance and Dreamland by Sam Quinones, and the Netflix film Heroin(e). But Skinner and Franz wanted Not Far From Me to be something different.
“I think how our book is different, or how it builds on that, is our focus on the storytelling: how individual families and whole communities across the state have been affected,” Franz said. “The point of the book — our perspective — was to make this problem more relatable.”
Collecting these stories started in “a really rough grassroots way,” Skinner said. Franz, Skinner and colleagues hung fliers in coffee shops, schools, libraries — anywhere that the project could maybe reach someone. But they also got help from caring organizations, like the Ohioana Book Awards.
Franz and Skinner wanted to highlight diversity in the book by including discussions about race, faith and sexuality. It was also important for Franz and Skinner to accurately represent all parts of the state, and the two received contributors from 22 of the 88 counties of Ohio.
With Skinner at the OU Dublin campus and Franz in Athens, most editing for the book was done remotely. However, this wasn’t too difficult because the partnership between Skinner and Franz was a natural fit, Skinner said.
“I do think we have different lenses on opioid abuse just by where we're located,” Franz said. “With Dan in an urban location, he sees and knows a lot about dynamics going on in neighborhoods, whereas I’m in rural Appalachia and I have a different lens from more rural counties.”
As a part of the book’s publication, Not Far From Me received a grant from the Ohio Humanities Council to go on an Ohio library book tour.
At these events, excerpts from the book are featured and discussed. This helps strike up a conversation among average people and professionals in communities statewide, Franz said.
“One of the greatest things about a book like this is that it’s not an academic book,” Franz said. “We’re not writing about all the different facts and figures about opioid abuse and we’re not there to teach people in that way. Average people are the ones who know a lot, more than anybody else in this situation because they’ve had a first-hand experience with it.”
Both Skinner and Franz emphasized that the opioid crisis won’t solve itself and it is not something that affects just a single individual. It’s complicated, and has no simple solution. It is a local, statewide and nationwide issue.
“We have to combat addiction and all that, but really we have to combat isolation and be together more,” Skinner said.
Franz wants to stress that she and Skinner did not write this book; they are simply editors, collectors, supporters.
“This book is really about our state; it’s about vulnerability, it’s about humility, it’s about recovery,” Skinner said. “We hope the book has a more enduring lesson about how to respond to a public health crisis in a humanistic way.”
A previous version of this report incorrectly stated the position of one of the editors and what proceeds will be donated. The article has been updated to reflect the most accurate information.